Friday, May 19, 2017
Where are the bishops?
I have asked that question also. But there is another question to be asked. Are we willing to be held accountable? In Rome Bishops who do hold priests and parishes accountable are almost always vilified as controlling, domineering, or worse. In the Missouri Synod, District Presidents who do hold pastors and parishes accountable are almost always vilified in the same way, as well as being reminded that they are up for election in a year or two! I suspect the same is happening in Australia.
Yes, we have a problem with ecclesiastical supervision and those charged with that responsibility. But we also have another problem. That is the problem of refusing to have others hold us accountable. Frankly, it is the bigger problem. In Rome, the Bishop is often told that those on the ground know better than someone far away in an office. In Missouri, the District President is often reminded that the structure of our church body is congregational and that congregations are free to determine which synodical resolutions are expedient for the local situation and no DP can take a call away from a pastor (even though he could suspend him and the congregation, but, in reality, that does not happen all that often). Truth be told, we don't want to be held accountable. We like living on the edge of chaos which allows us the freedom and flexibility to do what we think is wise and proper in the local situation without having anyone question us or challenge us.
The mega churches built on the personality of one individual have a problem. I just read where one mega church in Nashville has dropped attendance by over 1,000 and giving is down by half a million and still dropping because their founding pastor has left. We continually (and rightfully) insist to our people to be wary of such congregations where there is no supervision of doctrine and practice. But at the same time, we flirt with the same kind of independent attitudes and are loath to be held accountable -- even by those charged with this essential episcopal responsibility.
All I am saying is this. If we think the bishops or DPs should act, then we must also be willing to be held accountable to them. We do have a problem with ecclesiastical supervision but it goes both ways. Those charged with it find it unpleasant and difficult and so often unfruitful and those who are supervised resist anyone looking over their shoulders.
I welcome such supervision. I know I am not perfect and have failed miserable to live up to the noble calling and sacred trust deposited in me as a pastor and yet supervision of doctrine and practice is a good thing. It gives integrity not only to the church body but to the individual pastor trying to correct wrong practices and unfaithful teaching and to congregations who think that all problems can be traced to a bad egg of a pastor. It gives integrity to our identity to the world when who we say we are is not a vague and unspecific answer since our beliefs and practices are all over the page. It gives integrity to what we do. I may not like having to explain what I say and do, but I owe it to my parish and to my church body to be accountable for just that. And if you are a pastor reading this or a member of an LCMS parish, you owe it to your parish and to your pastor and to your church body to be accountable.
We may always have something to complain about when we talk about church leaders. But let us own up to our part of the problem. Our confession works only because all who hold that confession are accountable for its public preaching, teaching, and practice. Otherwise it is all just word games.